Quaran-Teens 2020: How Communication Has Changed through Quarantine

Quaran-Teens 2020: How Communication Has Changed through Quarantine

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By Alexandria Weaver, Emma Hopper, Logan Segal, and Avery Broughton

Various Forms of Communication in our Temporary Lifestyles:

This March and April, there has been a “new normal” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as we are all being forced into quarantine in order to stop the spread of a deadly virus. In a world where “online” was an optional thing, it is now required for most individuals. Communication through the source of technology and social media has allowed individuals to interact virtually, keeping their social interactions to a minimum. Our sense of communication during this quarantine has completely shifted. We use to communicate through FaceTime, texting, and calling on our cellphones as an optional tool. However, in this time, we are having to rely solely on our devices for our source of communication for work, school, and any further communication with family members as well as friends. In addition, communication through the source of kinship and technology has created a world that we have slowly adapted to in this time of crisis.

Kinship has played an important role in this state of quarantine as families are forced to thrive together. Being in quarantine, there is a lot of down time as social interactions have decreased due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The transition into quarantine has not been easy, but one way that has made it easier is the power of communication. One way the world is staying connected is through social media as we seek to overcome the aftermath of this pandemic. Communication has brought about new forms of social interactions, and it has changed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Photo by author, April 21, 2020. This photo represents the online communication with individuals who are experiencing similar circumstances during quarantine.

Technology Changing the Course of our Communication:

The transition began during the week of Spring Break; the trip my mother and I were scheduled for was cancelled, so we were starting to drive back. About halfway on our trip back home, we received an email about KTH School switching to online courses. From there, we went straight to the grocery store to pick up some food; while we were there, we could see other people stacking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizers. The weekend was spent secluded in the house; I had to leave briefly to pick up something from my father who lives downtown. The following weeks, I would begin my online schooling on Microsoft Teams. The first day we received no assignments, so I went on a Facetime with one of my best friends, B. It was not until the next day when I had my assignments and could set up my schedule. I would wake up every weekday at 7:40, work from 9 to 12, eat my lunch, work for a few more hours in the afternoon, then try to go outside to either walk or just sit in the backyard. We are only able to connect with teachers through a laptop and to our family, and not being able to see our friends in person has had a grave effect on most young people including myself.

Communication has also become prevalent as technology has heavily inserted itself into this temporary lifestyle that has forced itself upon us. On Wednesday, March 18 at 9 am, I began my first virtual learning classes. I opened my laptop to find emails from all of my teachers talking about the work that was assigned for the week and the times that I needed to be on my laptop during the week. The task of logging on to my laptop from 9am to12pm became ritualistic as it became part of my daily routine for the remaining weeks of school. The use of technology became more vital than ever in my high school years as it became the source for all communication from the administration and the teachers. The teachers began to smooth the transition into virtual learning specifically for the seniors by using specific language in order to comfort us, knowing that the remains of our senior year are no more. The comforting words of the teachers created a feeling of belonging as I know that I am not the only senior in the world that is experiencing these difficult circumstances. The use of technology has created a virtual boundary that is inclusive of some of the individuals that are forced by law to identify with their school systems. Communication through the idea technology has created a feeling of comfort as individuals are reminded that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

Photo by author, April 21,2020, zoom call meeting.

Communication and Language in Relation to Kinship:

Kinship has played an important role in this state of quarantine as families are forced to thrive together. Kinship can be defined as sharing characteristics or origins. Being in quarantine, there is a lot of down time as social interactions have decreased due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Through participant observation, I was able to gain verbal consent from my family members to take part in a daily routine that has also contributed to the formation of my identity. Kinship and culture have become more evident through this pandemic as my cousins and I have become closer in many different ways. Since the start of our “shelter in place” mandated by the state governor, we have worked out every day together, and we have come up with new ways to push ourselves to reach our set goals.

Because of this pandemic, we have started a culture amongst our immediate family, sharing ideas of repetition and eating habits that have translated into our everyday lives. Through kinship and ritual, we have become closer as a family, pushing each other with words of encouragement in not only working out, but holding each other accountable in our schooling and religion. We have learned more about each other in this past month than we ever have since our parents brought us into this world. Having that feeling of kinship allows the transition into a different culture and temporary lifestyle much easier knowing there are individuals who are also encountering these experiences. Through language and communication, we have come together to build each other as we continue to expand our identities as human beings

By the author: April 10, 2020, Communication through the concept of kinship is displayed as these cousins push each other using words of encouragement in order to reach their short-term goals. 

How quarantine affects communication in ritualistic events:

Ritual is also something that is relied on not just to keep organized in life, but now to allow people to feel they have some sense of purpose again. With many people now unable to go to work or school, their steady schedule has been shattered. For me, I had planned to visit a college for two days, make my decision, then to return to school to finish my senior year the same as classes before me. In less than 24 hours, my vision of the upcoming future was completely altered. I was not scared, angry, or sad, I was confused, and I remember sitting in the car quietly so I could try to process the shock.

What I have noticed online is that there are adults who are shaming young people for being upset by this quarantine. They say things such as, “You always want a break, don’t you?” Or “Now you get to lay around the house all day, so why are you so upset?” “You know other people are dying, right?” Yes, we stay in all day, and yes, there are people who are dying; young people are completely aware of that. However, things such as graduation, prom, and any other fun social thing they were looking forward to was taken from them in a matter of days. Not only that, but we still have school work to do, projects to get done, so stress levels are still very high. Telling people this invalidates their struggle. It should be understood that young people do not see this as a long vacation, and are just as afraid as adults are, or most of them (some are still not taking this seriously). Everyone is struggling in some way from the pandemic, and so everyone who is upset should be respected.

About four weeks have passed for the quarantine. So far, most days have the same schedule: being up and having breakfast by at least 8:30, I work on online schooling while my brother does his worksheets downstairs with my mom. My stepdad works, and we all typically eat lunch by noon or 12:30. Afternoons are sort of free unless we decide to walk, workout, or if we need to run an errand. Every couple of weeks, we are having groceries ordered to be delivered, but we are also ordering our food from a local country club, as they had this service before but has become increasingly more popular since the quarantine began. When we receive mail or packages, we are expected to leave them outside for a few days before touching them. Some nights we will order takeout, and when we do, my brother and I are not allowed to touch the food until it’s been taken out of its container and placed on a plate. My brother is experiencing allergic reactions to pollen, as he always does at the beginning of spring. His eyes swell up and he is fatigued, so he has been receiving a nasal spray and eyedrops every day. As his allergies get better, we are trying every day to find new ways to entertain ourselves at home and in our backyard. As far as the emotional state of everyone is, I can tell that my parents are very stressed over the situation, and are trying their best to keep a steady living environment.

By the author: April 20, 2020, author’s family starting a bonfire and making smores outside. Ritual, finding new ideas for activities to keep family occupied.

Completely forgetting our past rituals of going to work/school, is now all moved to online. A ritual is a symbolic action that helps people physically express their beliefs and values (Poutney & Maric 2015,page 163) . Something I have noticed about being in quarantine is the new rituals I have formed after this major life adjustment. These include hobbies that I didn’t have before such as: yoga, painting and going on walks in my neighborhood. Malinowski’s theory about rituals show how rituals are used to confront and calm anxiety. Malinowski studied the Trobianders of New Guinea between 1914 and 1918. One ritual they performed is exchanging valuable gifts between islands. The journey to each island can be dangerous, so before a canoe left to sea, rituals were performed to calm the anxiety they faced. Rituals can help create a sense of security and power (Poutney & Maric 2015, page 167). During this time, where everything we know is changing, creating new rituals helps to stay calm and have a sense of control when there really is none. Rituals allow for people to communicate and bond, even now if that means they are all online.

Photo by author, April 21, 2020. The formation of new rituals during this era of quarantine.

Globalization used to Communicate our Gratitude:

While communication has played a key role, globalization also helps us adapt to the lives we live during Covid-19. Globalization is the ongoing spread of goods, people, information, and money around the world. A theory used to explain the impact of globalization is Erikson’s theory of Transnational Flows (Erikson 2003, cited in Poutney & Maric pg. 235). This theory helps us understand globalization better by categorizing data and information by economics, politics, and culture. An example of globalization during the quarantine is social distancing. Social distancing is the act of staying away from people and closing your social circles in order to help level out the amount of cases of coronavirus. The use of social distancing has spread all across the United States and even in some places around the world.

Social distancing has allowed us to continue communicating in person through creating imaginary boundaries, but still allowing for face to face communication. Boundaries can be defined as the physical or imaginary border that surrounds an individual or groups of individuals. Through participant observation I have witnessed social distancing happening throughout my neighborhood. On my runs, I do not see other people at others houses, and if I see friends on a walk together, they are standing on opposite sides of the street to ensure that they stay healthy. This is not the only way globalization has been seen throughout this pandemic. Recently a bunch of families have been making masks for themselves and also for the hospitals and people working in the essential businesses. This is considered globalization because it is the spread of goods to help benefit others, and keep them healthy which is the main goal.

Photo by author, March 31, 2020. Author’s friend at her house making face shields for the essential businesses. The concept of globalization is displayed as we create and distribute goods to individuals who are on the front lines of this pandemic.

Ethics: Autoethnography

We sought to be ethical while understanding the emotional and physical reactions of the quarantine. Analyzing what choices are made and collecting this data helps us to understand the emotional response to the quarantine. In addition, one thing that we all took into consideration when taking photographs of our family members was protecting their confidentiality and anonymity by blurring their faces while keeping as much as the photo as possible to maintain validity. We also were careful in ensuring that our subjects were not in any danger when collecting our data. We all gained verbal consent by our family and friends to allow them to understand what we were observing which may or may not have affected the reliability as individuals are prone to social desirability in light of knowing that they are being observed. Maintaining ethical standards is highly important, as protecting individuals physically and emotionally is our top priority as researchers as we seek to understand and analyze from an insider’s perspective of being in a world bound by the walls of our homes.


Pountney, Laura, and Marić Tomislav. Introducing Anthropology. Polity Press, 2015.